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International Journal of Dharma Studies

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Buddhist Studies | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Bhikṣuṇī Shig Hiu Wan was a Buddhist master in more than one sense of the word. She was not only a highly accomplished practitioner, teacher, artist, and poet, but she was also a feminist pioneer in higher education. When she arrived in Taiwan in 1966 and began teaching at the Chinese Cultural University, she was the first Buddhist nun to teach at the university level in Taiwan. At that time, it was highly unusual for a nun to take a visible role in the public sphere, so when Shihfu allowed her paintings to be exhibited in Taipei, this was an important breakthrough in helping raise awareness of Chinese and Indian Buddhist culture, Buddhist women’s cultural achievements, and women’s achievements in general. In this paper, I take a participant/ observer approach in an effort to understand Shihfu’s unique teaching style and the qualities and achievements that establish her as one of the leading Buddhist nuns of the twentieth century. In this personal reflection, based on fieldwork conducted in Taiwan between 1982 and 2002, I consider her life’s work and the impact that she has had on successive generations of Buddhists, particularly Buddhist women. In the process, I examine what it means to be a uniquely progressive master in an overtly, proudly traditional Buddhist culture.


Originally published by SpringerOpen in the International Journal of Dharma Studies.